Legendary fund manager Li Lu (who Charlie Munger backed) once said, ‘The biggest investment risk is not the volatility of prices, but whether you will suffer a permanent loss of capital. So it might be obvious that you need to consider debt, when you think about how risky any given stock is, because too much debt can sink a company. Importantly, ABM Industries Incorporated (NYSE:ABM) does carry debt. But is this debt a concern to shareholders?
Why Does Debt Bring Risk?
Debt and other liabilities become risky for a business when it cannot easily fulfill those obligations, either with free cash flow or by raising capital at an attractive price. If things get really bad, the lenders can take control of the business. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.
How Much Debt Does ABM Industries Carry?
You can click the graphic below for the historical numbers, but it shows that ABM Industries had US$816.0m of debt in October 2019, down from US$939.0m, one year before. However, it also had US$58.5m in cash, and so its net debt is US$757.5m.
A Look At ABM Industries’s Liabilities
We can see from the most recent balance sheet that ABM Industries had liabilities of US$902.4m falling due within a year, and liabilities of US$1.25b due beyond that. Offsetting these obligations, it had cash of US$58.5m as well as receivables valued at US$1.09b due within 12 months. So it has liabilities totalling US$1.01b more than its cash and near-term receivables, combined.
This deficit isn’t so bad because ABM Industries is worth US$2.54b, and thus could probably raise enough capital to shore up its balance sheet, if the need arose. But it’s clear that we should definitely closely examine whether it can manage its debt without dilution.
We use two main ratios to inform us about debt levels relative to earnings. The first is net debt divided by earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), while the second is how many times its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) covers its interest expense (or its interest cover, for short). Thus we consider debt relative to earnings both with and without depreciation and amortization expenses.
ABM Industries has net debt worth 2.3 times EBITDA, which isn’t too much, but its interest cover looks a bit on the low side, with EBIT at only 4.3 times the interest expense. While these numbers do not alarm us, it’s worth noting that the cost of the company’s debt is having a real impact. One way ABM Industries could vanquish its debt would be if it stops borrowing more but continues to grow EBIT at around 19%, as it did over the last year. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is future earnings, more than anything, that will determine ABM Industries’s ability to maintain a healthy balance sheet going forward. So if you’re focused on the future you can check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.
Finally, a company can only pay off debt with cold hard cash, not accounting profits. So we clearly need to look at whether that EBIT is leading to corresponding free cash flow. Over the most recent three years, ABM Industries recorded free cash flow worth 79% of its EBIT, which is around normal, given free cash flow excludes interest and tax. This free cash flow puts the company in a good position to pay down debt, when appropriate.
ABM Industries’s conversion of EBIT to free cash flow suggests it can handle its debt as easily as Cristiano Ronaldo could score a goal against an under 14’s goalkeeper. But truth be told we feel its interest cover does undermine this impression a bit. All these things considered, it appears that ABM Industries can comfortably handle its current debt levels. Of course, while this leverage can enhance returns on equity, it does bring more risk, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this one. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But ultimately, every company can contain risks that exist outside of the balance sheet. For example, we’ve discovered 1 warning sign for ABM Industries that you should be aware of before investing here.
At the end of the day, it’s often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It’s free.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.
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